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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Full Citizens: A July 4th Reflection


It is not unexpected that there were no Jewish members of the Continental Congress. In 1776 there may have been all of 2,000 Jews, representing less than .1% of the population and not all of them were supportive of the American Revolution, though most were. As Jews we proudly point to Haym Solomon and his role as financial broker. Lesser known is Frances Salvador, a member of a Sephardic family who migrated to Georgia, and who was an early casualty of the war: he died on August 1, 1776. Meanwhile, the bulk of Congregation Shearith Israel of Manhattan, along with Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas, decamped for Connecticut when the British occupied the island. (For his part, Seixas would spend the later years of the revolution in Philadelphia, where he helped dedicate the building of Mikveh Israel.) When the congregation was re-established, it wrote to Governor Clinton speaking: “We the Members of the Ancient Congregation of Israelites lately returned from Exile leave to Welcome your Arrival in this City, with our Most Cordial Congratulations.” The address went on to declare the desire of the members “to render themselves Worthy of these Blessings, by Discharging the Duties of Good Citizens…”


Early on Jews were concerned about their rights to be full citizens of this new republic. In January 1784, Seixas, along with other leaders of the Philadelphia congregation, including Solomon, issued a memorial to the Council of Censors of Pennsylvania. They objected to the requirement that those serving in the general assembly of the state were required to take an oath which acknowledged both the Old and New Testaments as “given by divine inspiration.” The missive argued that Pennsylvania would be less attractive to Jews given this requirement. They declared this requirement as a “a stigma upon their nation and their religion, and it is inconsonant with the second paragraph of the said bill of rights…”


Over 3 years later, Jonas Phillips wrote to the Federal Constitutional Convention urging it to not to follow the example of Pennsylvania in terms of an oath mentioning the New Testament. The letter arrived too late to impact the deliberations: two weeks prior to his letter, the convention had adopted an article stipulating that there should be no religious test for officeholders. And 2 years later, this was strengthened with the first article of the Bill of Rights.


Nearly 250 years later, we Jews can be proud of those of us who have gone to serve with distinction in public office, grateful to a country wherein religious tests are a thing of the past. So let us celebrate the Fourth of July and rejoice in the gifts of this country.


Shabbat shalom.


Here is the link for our Friday evening service at 8 p.m.:

Meeting ID: 837 3603 1460

Saturday morning in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.




Payrush LaParshahah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Sh’lach (Numbers 14:8-15:7) is read this Shabbat, June 29th.


14:13 But Moses said to the Lord, “When the Egyptians, from whose midst you brought up this people in Your might, hear the news, (14) they will tell it to the inhabitants of that land. Now they have heard that You, O Lord, are in the midst of this people, that you, O Lord, appear in plain sight before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. (15) If then You slay this people to a man, the nations who have heard from Your fame will say, (16) “It must be because the Lord was powerless to bring that people into the land. He had promised them on oath that He slaughtered them in the wilderness. (17) Therefore, I pray let My Lord’s forbearance be great, as You have declared, saying, (18) The Lord! Slow to anger and abounding kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, yet not remitting all punishments, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and fourth generations. (19) Pardon, I pay, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt.”


14L18 The Lord! Slow to anger… A comparison with the full formula of God’s attributes in Exodus 34:6-7 reveals the following omissions: (1) “A God compassionate and gracious…. (2) and faithfulness…. (3) extending kindness to the thousandth generation…. (4) and sin…. (5) children’s children.” Since the formula is curtailed even more dramatically elsewhere *(cf. Exod. 20:6, Deut. 5:10, etc.), it stands to reason that only those portions are quoted that are applicable to the situation. The major omissions (1) and (3) are due to the particular status of Moses’ plea. He did not ask for the cancellation of punishment but only for its postponement, or for its execution as long as God would maintain His covenant with Israel… ‘Emet, “faithfulness” (2) is actually supplied in a few manuscripts as well as by most of the versions; others justify its omission on the grounds that ‘emet, literally “truth,” focusing on God’s justice is inappropriate in a plea for mercy. “And sin” (4) is also supplied in the above manuscripts and versions, but its omission can be rationalized on the grounds that chatta’ah generally refers to inadvertent sin (e.g., Lev. 4:1), an inappropriate designation for Israel’s open rebellion. The omission of (5) has no meaningful consequence. (Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers. Professor Milgrom was born in Brooklyn in 1923 and attended Brooklyn College. He went on to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained and earned his advanced degrees. For several years he served as a pulpit rabbi, starting as an assistant rabbi at Anshe Emet in Chicago, and then serving congregations in Orange, New Jersey, and Richmond, Virginia. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1965 and chaired its Near Eastern Studies department before retiring in 1994. From 1969-1971 he served as Director of the University California Overseas Study program at the Hebrew University. During his academic career he was a visiting professor at several universities, including Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Virginia Union University, as well at his alma mater, JTS. After being made Professor Emeritus in 1994, he made Aliyah and settled in Jerusalem. He was known for his research on Biblical purity laws and on the book of Leviticus. Among his earliest works are Studies in Levitical Terminology, printed in 1970, and Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology, which appeared in 1983. He is best known for his 3-volume commentary on Leviticus, for the Anchor Bible series, whose first volume appeared in 1998—the other two were published in 2000--: at some 3,000 pages, it is unlikely it will be soon superseded. A briefer commentary on Leviticus, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics, was produced by Fortress Press in 2004. The JPS commentary, first printed in 1990, includes 77 exercises. Shortly before his death in 2010, he completed his commentary on Ezekiel 38-48 for the Anchor Bible Series, which was published in 2012. In addition to his books, he was the author of more than 200 scholarly articles.)




Questions for Sh’lach 5784 (Numbers 14:8-15:7)


  1. What arguments did Joshua and Caleb use to try to sway the Israelites? How did they respond to these efforts? 
  2. With which of the 10 Plagues did God threaten to bring upon the Israelites? 
  3. Where else did God propose starting from scratch with Moses and Moses responded with “bad public image?”
  4. What other portions of the excerpted passage from Exodus, found in 14:18-19, should have been omitted?
  5. Where in the Yom Kippur liturgy does 14:20 appear?
  6. How did God qualify His statement in 14:20?
  7. Why wasn’t Joshua mentioned as worthy of entry into the land?
  8. In 14:25 Israel is told to go into the wilderness via the Sea of Reeds. Were they to hike back towards Egypt?
  9. Verses 14:26 ff. appear to be another version of God’s reaction to Israel’s refusal to enter the land. How is it different from the previous section?
  10. Was 40 years for days an equitable punishment? Was it in fact a 40-year sentence?
  11. What was the fate of the 10 spies who emphasized the negative?
  12. Why didn’t the Ark of the Covenant journey with the Israelites into battle? Is this why they lost?
  13. Why does the text veer from the failed attack to a series of laws about sacrifices?


Questions for the Haftorah (Joshua 2:1-24)


  1. Why did Joshua send only two spies? What were their names?
  2. Why were the two spies so quickly discovered?
  3. Where did they find refuge? Why was Rahab willing to aid them?
  4. What was Rahab’s profession? Is the red cord that is later mentioned a hint as to her occupation?
  5. Whose safety did the two spies guarantee and under what conditions?
  6. How did the two spies evade the search parties?
  7. How different was their report from that of the 12 spies?


Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784